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Mark S. Blumberg - Body Heat

"We think we understand how hot coals... should affect the human body, but we are wrong. In fact, any of us can walk across hot coals without pain if we don't dawdle, because wood, as a poor conductor of heat, requires a full second of contact with the foot to transfer sufficient heat to burn it (I'm still waiting to see someone walk over a bed of hot copper)." (p. 6)
Similar in many ways to Philip Ball's Life's Matrix: A Biography of Water, Blumberg takes a subject that you think you know a great deal about and that seems uninteresting on the surface and turns it into an outstanding book. The reader finds him- or herself discovering, in an enjoyable manner, much about something that didn't seem so important beforehand. You're left feeling grateful for having picked up this unassuming book to read.

Not only do readers learn a lot about the big-picture concepts of heat (and the lack thereof) but numerous tips are offered in the process. For instance, if you suffer from cold hands during the winter you're better off with a snug pair of mittens than a loose-fitting pair of gloves. Why? Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out. There are many items that Blumberg points out that I had a vague idea about previously but didn't know the whole story. An example is how winter feels so much harsher when it begins than it does after a few months. I always thought I just "got used to it." But it turns out that our body makes hormonal and other kinds of adjustments to increase our tolerance to cold.

The writing is brilliant, concise, clear, and occasionally funny. You'll learn loads of important and useful information when it comes to fevers and sleeplessness. If you're only interested in sex, or if hot peppers are your thing, then there is something here for you too. Body Heat: Temperature and Life on Earth is an engrossing book that is sure to please; it is popular science at its best. Like a guest at a party who tells one fascinating story after another, you are riveted to their every word and don't want the party to ever end. Such is the nature of Blumberg here in Body Heat.

from the publisher:
Whether you're a polar bear giving birth to cubs in an Arctic winter, a camel going days without water in the desert heat, or merely a suburbanite without air conditioning in a heat wave, your comfort and even survival depend on how well you adapt to extreme temperatures.

In this entertaining and illuminating book, biopsychologist Mark Blumberg explores the many ways that temperature rules the lives of all animals (including us). He moves from the physical principles that govern the flow of heat in and out of our bodies to the many complex evolutionary devices animals use to exploit those principles for their own benefit.

In the process Blumberg tells wonderful stories of evolutionary and scientific ingenuity--how penguins withstand Antarctic winters by huddling together by the thousands, how vulnerable embryos of many species are to extremes of temperature during their development, why people survive hour-long drowning accidents in winter but not in summer, how certain plants generate heat (the skunk cabbage enough to melt snow around it). We also hear of systems gone awry--how desert species given too much water can drink themselves into bloated immobility, why anorexics often complain of feeling cold, and why you can't sleep if the room is too hot or too cold. After reading this book, you'll never look at a thermostat in quite the same way again.

Mark S. Blumberg is Professor of Psychology at the University of Iowa.

This book is a real treat. Mark Blumberg takes something we normally hardly think about, and makes it into a fascinating topic, with colorful examples from fields as disparate as etymology and entomology. You probably will be repeating many of the stories he tells to those around you, as you discover why a fever may be good for you, or how babies generate their own heat, or how eating disorders interact with body temperature problems. It's entertaining, interesting, and great fun. --Michael Leon, University of California, Irvine

This is an engaging enchilada of a book, wrapping up cold feet, a warm heart, hot sex, and chili peppers, for easy digestion by the general science consumer. Delicious! --Bernd Heinrich, University of Vermont, and author of The Hot-Blooded Insects: Strategies and Mechanisms of Thermoregulation

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